Check out a mall during any given Saturday in December, and you’re due for a headache. The holiday season is notorious for an influx of one-time shoppers, driving out even loyal mall regulars. Mall traffic increases by a crazy 231.5 per cent, according to a study by Nomi last year, and most of that surplus is due to gift-shopping.
But people can buy gifts online in December. If anyone, common logic would make it seem like a better option—avoid the lines, forget about parking, and don’t worry about an item not being in stock. So what else about malls attracts people in droves?
Tourist dollars count
“Tourism for us is fairly new, although something that we’ve been spending a lot of time and energy on in the last two years,” says Claire Santamaria, general manager of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. Yorkdale isn’t the Eaton Centre—while the latter is a downtown tourist staple, Yorkdale is sprawled out north among the suburbs, so tourism wasn’t on their radar until recently.
“Our digital assets are tremendously important to us.”
But they’re noticing what most mall operators are: malls are tourist destinations. Out-of-towners will visit cities to spend whole days in malls, enjoying the food and high-class luxury in a temperature-controlled environment. Buying a Versace handbag online is one thing, but spending five hours in a mall and leaving with a Versace handbag is something bigger. For some tourists from rural areas, this time of year is the only time they’ll venture into a big city.
And that touristic appeal is something no established retailer can afford to overlook.
Digital may be the key to driving tourism
Yorkdale’s sales numbers have grown since last year, Santamaria says, which accounts for their third expansion in as many years. Two years ago, they created a new position—tourism manager. For the first time, the shopping centre can focus on providing a more immersive shopping experience by integrating digital technologies throughout the space and attracting new upscale retailers. Despite heavy competition from at-home e-commerce shoppers, people still flock to malls en mass.
Part of creating that unique experience involves a combination of digital and physical experiences. “Our digital assets are tremendously important to us,” Santamaria says, citing the Yorkdale mobile app, online navigations, and gift ideas on their blog to help facilitate the shopping experience.
“It’s an opportunity for us to, again, find another way to communicate to our shoppers and allowing our retailers to have some additional presence on the retail floor.”
But digital-only is just an introduction—what malls offer, that e-commerce cannot touch, is an unprecedented shopping experience that blends, rather than divides, the digital and physical realms. This past November, right before the holiday season, the mall introduced new digital directories throughout the mall, and partnered with Cineplex to install three massive video screens in key areas.
“It’s part of that customer experience,” Santamaria says. “It’s an opportunity for us to, again, find another way to communicate to our shoppers and allowing our retailers to have some additional presence on the retail floor.”
Not just malls
Small retailers could benefit from this mindset—if you want people coming into your store, make it something that straight-up e-commerce can never be. Cohere the online store with the bricks-and-mortar one to make a seamless shopping experience for customers, rather than treating them like separate entities.
In other words, a store isn’t just a store anymore—it’s a destination. For retailers to succeed, they’ve got to treat their stores like one.